Luckless Cork footballers can't seem to catch a break

Luckless Cork footballers can't seem to catch a break
Michael Hurley after the defeat by Donegal. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

WHEN you're down it's always more difficult to get a break as Cork footballers are discovering to their cost.

Take the Donegal game at Páirc Uí Rinn on Saturday afternoon as a prime example.

With 67 minutes gone on the clock, Ronan McCarthy's charges were level at 1-12 to 0-15 following a Luke Connolly free five minutes before.

Would Cork have accepted a share of the spoils at this stage? They'd have bitten your hand off for a point, no doubt about that.

Then, their whole world circled in around them, losing captain Ian Maguire and Connolly to leg injuries which look like ruling them out of the final game in Armagh on Sunday and Mark Collins to a second yellow.

It was already an uphill struggle given Donegal, backed by the strong wind, had taken over the middle third and were piling pressure upon pressure on a Cork defence that must have considered themselves under siege.

Now, the visitors had a three-man advantage, as well, and little wonder Donegal bagged the next five scores, 1-4, without response to run somewhat flattering 1-19 to 1-12 winners.

Cillian O'Hanlon gathers the ball from Donegal's Michael Murphy. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Cillian O'Hanlon gathers the ball from Donegal's Michael Murphy. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Cork's natural reaction was to find out how their fellow strugglers, Tipperary and Clare, were faring out.

At one stage, Kildare led by Tipp by nine points and seven with only 10 minutes remaining in Newbridge only to end up winning by just a point, 1-11 to 2-7, after late goals from Liam Boland and Dan O'Meara threatened an upset.

The result kept Tipp and Cork tied on three points with the Premier Co enjoying a much stronger scoring difference, minus 9 to Cork's minus 22, though the Rebels won the head-to-head.

But just to further cloud the picture, Cusack Park in Ennis was deemed unplayable for the Clare-Meath game and was deferred for 24 hours.

When it was played on St Patrick's Day, Meath returned to the top of the table by winning by 1-12 to 1-7 and can almost touch division 1 football after a 13-year wait in the wilderness.

That result suited Cork as well. Clare remain on three points with a scoring difference of minus 8, but with victory over Cork from earlier in the campaign which could be significant.

The general consensus is that Cork will find it very difficult to get a result at the Athletic Grounds in Armagh on Sunday, especially if the injuries to Maguire and Connolly, in addition to keeper Micheál Aodh Martin, don't clear in time.

The expectation that if all three are ruled out then Ronan O'Toole would partner Killian O'Hanlon at midfield with Collins moving to centre-forward and Brian Hurley starting at full-forward. Mark White would expect to take over from Martin between the posts.

Armagh are the only county in the eight-team section to have nothing tangible to play for in terms of either promotion of relegation.

Kieran McGeeney's side are on six points and will be in division 2 again next season whatever the set of results turn out to be.

Still, Ulster pride is a considerable driving force, especially playing in front of their loyal supporters, and Cork know they'll have to earn anything they can get from the last game of a dismal campaign.

And there's also the fact lurking in the back of their minds that if Cork do spring a surprise and collect only their second win in seven, their fate will still depend on what happens in the Tipp-Clare tie in Thurles at the same time.

For example, a Tipp victory in that one, allied to a Cork away success, would hand Cork a most unlikely get-out-of-jail card because they would survive on the basis of their head-to-head win over Tipp, who would join Clare in division 3 next season.

What Cork would dread most of all would be to win up north and then find Clare winning in Thurles which would condemn them to the third tier because of the defeat in Ennis.

As ever though there will be nothing straight forward because there's sure to be a draw somewhere just to add further intrigue.

And, no doubt, some refereeing decisions are bound to irk a few managers.

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